[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


July 9, 2006


This Week in Palestine…behind the News with Hanna Siniora



The Case of Palestinian Prisoners


The ongoing war in Gaza, that was ignited by the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit, has two important causes. For the Palestinian people, the failure of the Palestinian political leadership, be it Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) or Ismail Haniyeh (Abu Al Abed), to impress on the Israeli leadership the importance of releasing political prisoners incarcerated in Israeli prisons. For the past six months, on the average, twenty people are being arrested on a daily basis, more than 3,000 political activists have been put in jail by the IDF in 2006.


President Abbas have twice been the victim of lack of reciprocation on this and many other issues, first during the tenure of the bed stricken Ariel Sharon, and now during the tenure of Ehud Olmert. Abu Mazen, despite being the most moderate Palestinian leader in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has so far come empty handed and this has taken much of his credibility with his people. It seems it is too late to repair the damage, Mahmoud Abbas, has shown reluctance to seek a second term, and has to a certain extent, become a lame-duck president, in transition to whoever will succeed him.


The capture of Shalit by the combined effort of three militias headed by Izzedin Al-Qassam, Hamas military wing, accentuated beyond doubt for the world at large and the Israeli leadership that Israel has to look for a serious solution to the Palestinian prisoners issue. Past exchanges, especially the last one that was done with Abbas, had not dealt with prisoners with long term sentences, including the leaders who drafted the prisoners document. The document helped Hamas descend from its political ladder to face reality on the ground, but the reoccupation of Gaza by the IDF does not give the local Hamas leadership the opportunity to implement the changes, including the creation of the much coveted and needed unity government, a coalition of all the political forces on the ground, mainly the Hamas and Fateh movements. 



The Case of Kadima


The Capture of Corporal Shalit delivered a knock out blow to the raison d’etres of the new Kadima party. Olmert, following in the footsteps of Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza; and by inheriting the mantle of leadership from the stricken Sharon, won a hard fought election, on the basis of a second disengagement from the West Bank. The margin of victory was much narrower than what was predicted, yet Kadima emerged as the largest party in the present Knesset, and Olmert formed the new coalition and emerged as the Prime Minister who paid lip service to bilateral negotiation, and continued with the vision of unilateral disengagement, which he called first convergence, then renamed as realignment. Olmert visited the White House, gave a fine speech to a joint House-Senate Congress but did not get the blessing to his unilateral drawing of borders. Later Olmert visited London and Paris, there, both leaders were much franker with him and did not endorse his unilateral plans and urged him to go for bilateral talks.


The political stalemate that arose as a result of the unexpected Hamas electoral victory was broken by the daring capture of an IDF soldier by Palestinian militants. The political and military leadership in Israel received a slap in the face by this act, first because Israeli intelligence, warned on several occasions that such an operation is being prepared, and twice, days before the operation took place, the Rafah crossing was closed in anticipation of such development. The IDF did not take the full precautions and reeled from the blow and put on full pressure on the civil leadership of the cabinet. It so happened that for the first time in the modern history of Israel, the trio at the helm has no security background, no ex-generals in command of the office of PM, IDF, and Foreign affairs. The reoccupation of the Gaza strip is a death blow to the Sharon dream of disengagement, and makes the realignment plans impossible to implement.


Ehud Olmert, who during Sharon’s stewardship, was test ballooning the disengagement has realized that his pet project, is in danger if not doomed, his government is shaky, and the future of Kadima which has only one major theme unilateral disengagement; might fall apart. These reasons led him to take the hasty step of accepting the IDF recommendation to enter Gaza. Olmert still believes that he can convince America and the world community that there is no Palestinian partner, thus disregarding the fact that the political leadership in Palestine managed to bridge their differences and ratify an amended prisoner’s document.


The Future of Mahmoud Abbas


I am afraid, that the development of the past six months sealed the fate of the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, the USA did not give him the necessary support, Sharon and Olmert ignored him, Arafat was gone but Hamas took his place, Abbas is beleaguered on all fronts. Additionally, he has not been able to convene the Fatah sixth conference nor to reform the movement. Most important of all, his advisors failed him, or did not have the capability to give good advice, what kind of President, leader, will leave Gaza under siege to go to Ramallah to meet visitors or to keep commitments. Abbas should have stayed in Gaza until the situation is stabilized. PM Haniyeh who is targeted, went to Beit-Lahya to inspect the damage, went to the hospitals to visit the wounded and is running his cabinet under siege, what Abbas has done in front of his public, is like a soldier deserting from his unit in combat.


The advisors of Abbas have committed a crime, that the Palestinian people will not forgive a leader to abdicate his duty to his people to runaway from the combat zone of Gaza to the safety of Ramallah.



Hanna Siniora is the Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.  www.ipcri.org